March 23, 2018

SONG | Why We Love the School We Hate

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Cornhell. This is the nickname I hear as I cross the Arts Quad every morning, fifty students shivering under parkas with a ring of fur around their face, their L.L. Bean boots dragging through dirty slush. Some clutch cups of mediocre coffee from Libe. All bear an expression of death on their faces.

Reality is uncertain and terrifying right now, ridden with countless events startling Cornellians over the past few months — the discovery of a weapon stockpile in Collegetown, an atrocious pig roast, a string of racial and sexual violence. The first day of freshman year seems like a faded picture by now, when we looked out at the slope with resounding certainty that this would be the best four years of our existence. It’s hard to remember why we loved Cornell in the first place.

But the other day, my architecture teacher brought it all back when he told us how Cornell is a world within two thresholds. In architecture, thresholds are crossed to enter anything: a doorway, an arch, a rooftop. Cornell’s thresholds are two bridges suspended over roaring, beautiful gorges; every morning and evening we cross one on North campus and the other in Collegetown. Or we scale a slope grazed by lush grass, climbing toward a tower. There is no way to enter and exit campus without passing through nature, crossing rolling hills and waters into an awaiting institution.

Sitting in the lecture hall of Milstein, I realized that this is the reason why we continue to cross thresholds every morning. We love this place. We chose this place for the moments of happiness it gives us that no other school can. And remembering those moments is the only thing that can pull us through times like these.

I love Cornell because I love sitting in the A.D. White Library at sunset and snagging the black couch by the window. As I sit among books next to a window, overlooking a town I have come to love, I realize in no other place I would be able to do this, to sit in nature and a library at the same time.

I love the way the coffee machines whir in Klarman Hall as I rush to class. The baristas press in the coffee grounds and the smell of coffee beans piercing the air. I love the way it’s always chaotic by the sugar and cream station, but the line to the soup and sandwich line stays orderly. Goldwin Smith is an ebb and flow, and the Temple of Zeus is its counterpart.

I love walking down to Louie’s food truck and biting into a toasted sandwich, warm sauce dripping down your hands. I love how the other students chatter by the red truck, their conversations growing louder and louder as they wait for food, anticipating Cajun fries and malt shakes and pizza subs.

I love passing the Johnson in the evening and glimpsing its roof of stars behind the trees. I love how it reminds me of the first day I came to campus — the Johnson held a welcome back party, and the strangers who have now become my friends lay on the crooked bench with me, and we talk like our lives are still ahead of us.

I love how the stores of the Commons line up in ways that make me want to wander in every one of them but never buy anything, to smell the spices of the olive oil shop and touch the felt birdhouses of the trinket store. I think back on when these streets were filled — caramel coated apples drip from stands during Applefest and chefs toss canned beans to one another during Chilifest. Even when I am alone in the Commons, there is something about the liveliness of the past that reminds me of the best parts of summer and fall, reminiscent of long weekends wandering on winding streets.

I love standing at a concert in Barton and feeling the rush of bodies hit me and we are all shouting, we are singing and screaming seemingly in unison with every other student from Cornell. And I love the way I can sit on the patterned couches of Goldwin Smith’s Pale Fire Lounge with complete strangers and feel at peace as us each read a book, Nabokov smiling from a picture frame to remind us of those who sat there before.

Best of all, I love the way I can think back on the first day I walked on the crooked roads of this campus, and the strangers I was once so timid to approach have become my closest friends. I love how they have showed up at my door to help me carry boxes on move-out day, climbed the gorges at sunset with me, sat in the alcove of the library and talked until the sun started rising above the horizon.

I don’t know a single Cornellian who doesn’t feel this connection toward their school — it just becomes hard to remember them sometimes. But it is important to hold onto those moments, and remind one another why we are here. The bond of two students walking past the clocktower at midnight, the unparalleled relationship between two strangers sitting on a bench, gazing at the starry sky of the Johnson — those are the moments that keep us walking through the snow in the morning. It is a collection of these moments that keeps us loving each other and our Big Red home, no matter what else is happening in the world.

Kelly Song is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at ksong@cornellsun.com. The Songbird Sings runs biweekly.